Sharks

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

SAN JOSE - Like with just about every other player on the Sharks, Kevin Labanc's game is doing an about-face after a rocky start to the 2019-20 season. 

But even with two goals scored in the last two games, there's still another level that Labanc thinks his game can get to. And the best way for him to do that is to keep his focus on the future.

"I think my game's found itself a little bit," Labanc told NBC Sports California. "Last game, I think I definitely could've played better. But it's a learning curve. You just have to bring it every single game and worry about this upcoming game."

That's a pretty on-brand self-assessment from the 23-year-old winger. He isn't one to make excuses or brush off when he doesn't well. He even made fun of himself last year when asked why he's regularly the player that bench boss Peter DeBoer sends to the penalty box to serve the too-many-men penalty. 

But Labanc also isn't one to dwell on his mishaps for too long, which is an important quality for one of the young players San Jose is leaning on to make a jump this season and take on more responsibility. 

"You want to stay in the moment as much as you can in this business," Labanc continued. "If you start worrying about how good or bad you were the game before, it won't help your situation in the present. I'm just focused on tonight, making sure I go out there and do my job and that I can be good on all ends of the rink."

Doing a good job on both ends of the ice is an aspect of Labanc's game that DeBoer wants to see more of. While getting on the scoreboard is important, there are other areas that need to follow suit.

"For me, I measure his game on a lot more than just the production, but obviously that is something that we are counting on," the head coach explained. "I talked to him -- two games ago I thought he was our best player on the ice, in Chicago. Last game, I know he scored but he and I talked (because) I didn't think he had a great game."

This isn't to say DeBoer is completely dissatisfied with where Labanc's game is at right at this early point in the season. "I think, like all goal-scorers, he's a little streaky," DeBoer said. "He's a young guy. He came (into camp) in great shape, I think he's moving well. And he's a product a little bit of our start as a team."

[RELATED: Sharks historically far more successful when scoring first]

For the Sharks as a whole, putting that rough start to the season in the rearview mirror is important with the tough competition they have coming up on their schedule. San Jose closes out a three-game homestand by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres -- two squads who are dominating the Eastern Conference at this early point in the season. As happy as San Jose might be with how they played over their last couple of games, the focus has to remain on what's ahead of them.

"We're all feeling really good, but it's still a long season though and there are just so many games," Labanc said. "You can't worry about your past success. You have to worry about your future."

Sharks' Erik Karlsson supports Evander Kane's message in lengthy post

Sharks' Erik Karlsson supports Evander Kane's message in lengthy post

Sharks forward Evander Kane has been extremely outspoken about racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd's tragic death while in Minneapolis police custody last week. Both San Jose's owner Hasso Plattner and captain Logan Couture have publicly supported Kane's efforts and recognized the need for his message.

On Wednesday, another of Kane's teammates joined that group.

Erik Karlsson, arguably the Sharks' most well-known player on a global scale, wrote a lengthy Instagram post to not only support Kane, but also further expound on his message.

"I can't tell you how many times I've written and deleted this hoping it comes across the right way," Karlsson began. "I don't think I'll ever feel completely comfortable but the reality that exists for so many others is pretty much as far away from comfortable as you can get. Coming from and growing up in a small village in Sweden, I never knew anything other than you should treat everyone the same way you would want them to treat you. I never once thought about skin color, where you come from, how you dress or what you possess. No person is worth more or less than another. You always treat someone the way you want them to treat you, regardless of how you look or where you are from. To be where I am right now in 2020 and see the things I see and hear the things I hear. It blows my mind how blind I have been to the issues that have been here for a very long time and that still exist."

"I thought I grew up in a world where it didn't matter what skin color you had or where you're from and that we are all the same, but I now know I was not educated on something so crucial," he continued. "Unfortunately, we cannot change the past, but we for sure can and need to change how we move forward, and I think we do that by learning and listening. I respect and support Evander for what he stands for and how he's so vocal about this issue. 

"I haven't gone through any of these issues in my life so I can never say I know what it's like. But all I know is that I want my daughter and all other children to grow up in a world much, much better than ours right now. A world I thought I grew up in where we are all equal and treated as such. A world that didn't exist but I pray soon does."

[RELATED: How Sharks will learn, grow from forgettable '19-20 season]

Fewer than five percent of the NHL is comprised of players of color, according to WDET. As such, it has been tremendous to see so many white players join in and proliferate such a desperately needed message for both the league and world at large.

The more people that do, the more likely Karlsson's vision is to be realized.

What Sharks can learn from last time they missed Stanley Cup playoffs

What Sharks can learn from last time they missed Stanley Cup playoffs

The Sharks we so bad in 2019-20 that they couldn’t even qualify for an expanded 24-team NHL playoff field designed to wrap a campaign paused by the coronavirus pandemic.

They’ll be watching playoff hockey from home for just the second time in 16 seasons, an outlier outcome for a team that has been as steadily successful as any in professional sports.

The Sharks fell flat during a disastrous season where they finished dead-freaking-last in the Pacific Division and never got off the canvas after a brutal start. A team full of veteran stars finds itself in an odd position heading into a prolonged offseason, trying to find a way to rebound quickly from a disappointing campaign.

Many top players were around the last time the Sharks missed the postseason in 2014-15, and while the situations are not identical, there are lessons to be gleaned from the experience and their previous response to disappointment.

They finished above .500 in that 2014-15 season, and didn’t miss the postseason by much. The Sharks went 3-10 in the month of February, which sank their playoff chances and prompted the team and head coach Todd McLellan to mutually part ways.

But the Sharks reached different depths in 2019-20. They were the Western Conference’s worst team despite a roster full of heavyweights, with injuries to key players and some internal discord preventing the Sharks from reaching their vast potential. The letdown also led to Peter DeBoer's in-season firing and a coaching search now underway.

But Sharks captain Logan Couture knows a lot can be learned from that last offseason.

“I think a lot of guys went home during that summer determined to be in better shape and add some bite to their game,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said last week during a video conference with local reporters. “[Sharks GM Doug Wilson] challenged a lot of us to step up our games and improve as players. We wanted to come into the next year and prove that we were still a good team here in San Jose. I believe that summer a lot of people wrote us off and said the window was closed, that the team was done and to stick a fork in them.”

The Sharks surely will see similar predictions this offseason, just as they did five years ago, and it could prove to a motivating factor this time around.

“I think that lit a fire in a lot of us, and I think we’ll have a similar response this year,” Couture said. “There are going people writing those same articles. There are going to be fans thinking the same things. The only way that can change is if we make it change and show everyone we’re still a good team.

“We still have the pieces, in my mind, to compete. That’s all we can do, just work as hard as we can this summer and be as prepared as we can heading into the next training camp. I don’t think our camp this year was up to par, so we need to have a better one and get off to a good start, because we didn’t have a good one this year.”

Defenseman Erik Karlsson hasn’t been in San Jose long, but experienced plenty of disappointing seasons with the Ottawa Senators. He missed the playoffs four times with that club and each time – he was traded after missing the 2017-18 postseason -- the team responded to each setback with a playoff berth the following season.

“Every time you have a letdown, when you don’t feel that you performed up to the standards that you would like, it gets to everybody on the team and within the organization,” Karlsson said. “You have to make sure you come into the next year as prepared as possible to avoid having a bad situation repeat itself. That type of response shows a lot of character, and we have a lot of high-character guys on this team. I feel like, ever since we found out our season was ending, everyone has committed to coming back stronger next year.”

[RELATED: Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason]

The Sharks came back super strong after missing the 2014-15 playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Final the following season. It will take some discipline and consistency to find similar form after a down year, with possibly eight months between their last game and the start of next season, which should be delayed due to a prolonged hiatus due to the ongoing public health crisis.

“Even not playing now, you’re going to have to train for seven or eight months. That sucks,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “It’s not fun. It’s tough work to get your body and mind ready for a year and we have to figure out how to do that for double, triple the time. Guys train as hard as they can and thank the gods it’s only two and a half months away from the game. It’s going to be difficult.”